For the last several years I have volunteered with a local concert series. I love it – the concerts are great, the people are great, and I really enjoy the work I do there. I was looking forward to one particular concert this year, more than any of the others. I am a huge fan of the singer, and I had high hopes for the concert. I waited all summer for it, and on the day of the concert, my supervisor let me take the position right by the stage, where little work was required during the actual concert and I could see and hear everything from one of the best seats in the house. The concert was awesome. Many of my favorite songs were played, there was some fantastic improv music throughout the show, and the concert ran 20 minutes longer than it was scheduled (bonus music!). I took some great photos, and at the end of the concert, I was euphoric about the experience, and I went home completely satisfied.
When I returned home, I jumped on Facebook and found a picture of another volunteer who had been asked to be security for an after-concert event. When the event ended, she was able to meet and chat with the singer. And there she was, immortalized online with the singer and a few of the staff members, enjoying a particularly cool moment I hadn’t even considered before. Suddenly, I was mad. Why wasn’t I asked to help with this? Why didn’t I get to meet the singer? My concert experience was now tainted with this new information, with this missed opportunity.
The next day in church I was thinking about this experience in the context of AMW’s Thursday evening event with Anna Packard (who did an excellent last-minute workshop, by the way). Anna led us through some exercises where we talked about the different pressures and expectations heaped on us by the world, our culture, and ourselves. Then she had us talk about our own divine gifts and potential, our personal goals, and the beautiful, positive strengths that are unique to each of us. At the end, she challenged us to each write a six-word mission statement for our lives (Mine: Have adventures. Change lives. Build faith).
Then it struck me: Why was I so upset? I loved the concert, every minute of it. As I was driving home that night I would not have changed a moment of the experience. It was only when I compared my experience to that of another person that I felt somehow cheated or let down. Somehow I retroactively changed my own expectations and decided that what had, just one hour before, been perfect was no longer good enough. This shift in perspective was unfair to me as well as to the other concert volunteer. It ruined my memory of things and kept me from celebrating with her; rather, I complained in my head about the unfairness of it all.
How often do we engage in this type of behavior with each other? I have heard friends comparing the difficulty of their programs and degrees, boasting about travel or study opportunities, trying to prove that they work harder or have accomplished more. Recently a friend told me a terrible story about a conversation she had with another person about her education and career plans, to which the girl walked off and said “good luck with that.” So many have thoughtlessly responded to a sibling’s or friend’s engagement with “Well, I wouldn’t want to marry him.” In the throes of this competitive world, how do we so quickly lose perspective and hope? Why can’t we be more supportive of each other and celebrate the difficulties and accomplishments of our lives without first a nod to our own situation? Why are we only successful if we are more successful than someone else? We have all heard the saying about not comparing our bloopers to others’ highlight reels. I suggest we go a bit further than that and stop talking in highlights and bloopers, and stop the urge to compare at all.
The night of the concert was, for me, a highlight, until I saw someone else’s highlight – then my experience crash-landed in bloopertown. It was only when I stepped back and realized I was being petty that I was able to reconsider and again appreciatethe awesome individual experience I had. I still loved the concert. I still would not change a thing. I was suddenly able to be genuinely happy for this woman, and later ask her about it and celebrate with her. I actually ended up enhancing my experience, because I can now list “some of the people got to meet the singer” as one of the awesome things that happened during the concert. The experience was still a highlight, and now that highlight can be shared graciously with others.
Have adventures. Change lives. Build faith.
And I think I’ve already started.